Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven at 25
Consider the musical landscape of the 1990s — the decline of “hair metal”’s decade-long marathon of debauchery and aerosol, the rise of homogenized grunge rock and whiney alt-rock bands, not to mention other long-established metal bands such as Metallica and Megadeth writing more calculated commercial material. With that in mind, there were really only a handful of quality metal bands representing the genre during this decade.
Pantera were one of those genre-defining bands who thrusted themselves into the scene with its raucous groove/thrash metal hybrid and brash confidence.
Boasting the powerhouse rhythm section of bassist Rex Brown and drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott, the insane fretwork of Vinnie’s brother Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott and the muscular vocals of Phil Anselmo, the rowdy Texan foursome proved to everyone that they were not to be fucked with.
Formed in 1981 originally as a glam/power metal band (much to the chagrin of later-era diehard Pantera fans), the band released four albums before recruiting Anselmo and taking on a heavier style, starting with 1990’s Cowboys From Hell.
Released on March 22, 1994, Pantera’s seventh full-length album Far Beyond Driven crashed the Billboard charts at a surprisingly No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200, which was unprecedented for a metal band at the time.
Opener “Strength Beyond Strength” kicks the record off with a heavy sledgehammer to the face and continues its bludgeoning tempo throughout the rack and proves to be a perfect start to the record. The raging followup “Becoming” introduced Dimebag’s new toy at the time — a whammy pedal — which gleefully squeals throughout the three-plus minute track, while “5 Minutes Alone” is an in your face, power-packed anthem full of angst and aggression. And holy hell does that Dimebag Abbott guitar solo slay!
“I’m Broken” contains one of Dimebag’s most memorable riffs ever written (with “Walk” being possibly the only exception). It’s allegedly an Anselmo autobiographical song about a debilitating back injury. Following the first four tracks, the record declines in quality, starting with the almost three-minute “Good Friends And A Bottle Of Pills” (a modified phrase from a Ted Nugent song). It’s not really a full-fledged song as it is a random jam with taunting instrumentation and an odd spoken word allegedly about an Anselmo sexual exploit. However, the track disrupts the flow of the album and for the most part is skippable.
On “Hard Lines, Sunken Cheeks,” the band plays a similar melodic approach it displayed on Vulgar’s “This Love,” but the track runs a bit too long at seven minutes. One of Pantera’s most personal songs, “25 Years,” was written about Anselmo’s dysfunctional family and issues with his father, decorated with Anselmo’s vitriolic vocals. The girl-toxic theme of “Shedding Skin” was about an Anselmo true life experience about not getting tied down with a girl too soon, while “Use My Third Arm” contains one of Pantera’s great trademark riffs, but is one of Far Beyond Driven’s least memorable tracks.
The aggressive “Throes of Rejection” just might be the hidden gem of Far Beyond Driven. With its killer bass guitar and drum cadence (one of Vinnie’s best double bass drum patterns ever created), combined with Dimebag’s melodic yet chunky riffs and Anselmo’s angry barks of rejection would have been a great “proper” ending to the album. However, album closer “Planet Caravan,” a Black Sabbath cover, is a fantastic rendition for a metal band like Pantera to pull off, but is very atypical from the rest of the album and initially threw fans for a loop.
Having to follow 1992’s skull-crushing breakout album Vulgar Display of Power wasn’t going to be an easy feat. Although Far Beyond Driven doesn’t entirely match Vulgar’s intensity song-for-song, it comes in at a close second. Pantera was at its peak of dominance during this time, which unfortunately declined with 1996’s flawed The Great Southern Trendkill and 2000’s underrated swansong Reinventing the Steel. And well, you know the tragic ending to the rest of the band’s story.